The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Changed My Life

The famous personality test changed my perspective on the way people think.

Oct 31, 2011 at 11:00am | Leave a comment

“Have you taken the Myers Briggs?” I was sitting at a bar in Austin, Texas with an attractive if a bit eccentric guy I had met two hours earlier at a taco stand. I hadn’t even heard of Myers-Briggs, I said. The guy’s eyes clouded over with something akin to lust and after jabbing at his iPhone for a moment he handed an abridged (and free) version of the famous personality test over to me. We sat in silence for a while I answered yes or no to a series of statements.

Some were easy:
You feel involved when watching TV soaps.

Others made me stop and think for a while:
You value justice higher than mercy.

No and no. With each question I became more invested in the test’s final outcome. I finally reached the last one, pushed “enter” and tilted my beer bottle to my lips.

The letters appeared almost magically when the screen reloaded. “INFP” they said -- Introversion (I), intuition (N), feeling (F), perception (P). I read them out loud. “Me too!” my drinking partner sang happily. We may or may not have made squealing noises. 

Though it is based on the research of Carl Jung and his typological models, the Myers-Briggs type indicator was actually developed by two women in the early part of the 1900’s —-- Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers who turned to behavior studies whilst trying to figure out Isabel’s husband. Isabel (a fellow INFP) was the one who turned her mother onto the theories of Jung.

Once they developed the different types, I’m sure they spent many hilarious hours speculating on personality profiles of people they encountered. From the types, the Myers-Briggs test was developed as a way for women to figure out their place in the workforce during World War Two. 

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Beer-buzzed and back at my hotel, I took another version of the test, which confirmed my status as an INFP. Based on their descriptions, the “NFP” part of the equation made a whole lot of sense. The opposites of INFP are Extraversion (E), Sensing(S) Thinking (T) and Judgment (J). But was I an introvert? This blew my mind.

All of my life interactions -- starting as a precocious child, until just that night talking to some guy I'd just met like I’d known him for half my life -- pointed to my status as an extrovert. However, though I’ve always been extremely social with strangers (as I’ve written about here), when put in the position where I need to make small talk, I usually freeze up.  I've always felt self-protective and vulnerable in large groups, sticking to the edges of a crowded rooms and finding solace with other outsiders. I thought this just made me a bad extrovert.

Apparently, I had gotten it wrong, I wasn't an extrovert at all. According to Jung, introverts aren’t necessarily shy or bad at socializing, they just want every interaction to carry meaning. Apparently, if you do not seem important or interesting enough to my overly developed inner world, it rejects you like a bad embryo and I stand there with my wine glass sputtering awkwardly as a result.

I am not normally one to believe in things like personality tests or astrological signs. As a whole, I’m skeptical of things that transfer the responsibility of someone’s behavior to something larger than just themselves. But as I read more, I felt a profound connection to my type. What I took from it was not a vague list of attributes but a completely accurate description of myself down to my most difficult to articulate flaws. It was a huge relief to find out there were others like me. (It also appealed to my vanity. I was in good company with Princess Diana and Albert Schweitzer as supposed fellow INFPs as well.)

Since then, I've loved knowing I was an INFP so much I should get a tattoo of it, or cross-stitch it onto a pillow.

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Perhaps more valuable than learning about myself, Myer’s-Briggs has helped me understand others. Under normal circumstances I am super empathetic, constantly attempting to measure how people are thinking and feeling. But until I took the Myers-Briggs, I had never really considered how they were thinking and feeling.

It might sound weird, but I’ve never gotten how other children weren’t able to have mental conversations with their stuffed animals or why certain people haven’t seen something as beautiful when to me it so clearly was. Myers-Briggs helped me to peer out of my inner-dwelling emotional cocoon and realize it isn’t because these people are callous zombies, they are just different than I am. 

Even if the types and the test are full of it as some people believe, at least the process of learning about it has helped me understand the actions of others and reinforced my belief that two separate people having any sort of relationship is a freaking miracle and one that I should always appreciate.

So what’s your type? Would we “get” each other or would you make me feel awkward if we met in person?